Part 1: Write. Photocopy. Fold. Staple. Disseminate. Repeat.
I first learned about zines in 1999, during the WTO protests in Seattle. A friend and I left high-school early (there was a city-wide curfew at that time) and wandered into an anarchist bookstore where a large group of people were gathered. Someone handed me what I then referred to as a “pamphlet”—a black & white, clumsily stapled booklet that contained anarchist history and recommended precautions to take when exposed to pepper spray or other forms of police violence. I didn’t take many risks at that age. I was going through a tough time at home and never wanted to add to the chaos going on around me. I tucked the zine in my pocket but chose to stay away from the protests. Years later I discovered that zines take many forms. They are often cheaply produced and not always black & white. Zines can contain work by writers, photographers, activists, musicians, those who are incarcerated, parents, teachers—usually people with something to say whose voices aren’t given space in mainstream media.
Zines are tangible reflections of personal revolutions. Reading queer zines helped me feel less alone when I first came out to my friends and family. Zines were my source of self-education when I was called out for getting defensive after mis-gendering a friend. Attending Zine Fests became opportunities to meet creators face-to-face, thank them in person for the impact their words had on me, and support continued creation by buying their work. If I feel socially anxious by the crowds at a fest (as most zinesters will admit they experience), I can usually engage with people’s work at a zine library section of an event, apart from any self-imposed pressure to be an extrovert or spend more money than I set aside for the day. It’s hard not to feel energized just moving around a zine fest and witnessing other people having their own personally significant experiences.
Interactions at zine fests also provide moments of necessary discomfort and growth. I will never forget this very cringe-worthy and significant moment for me at a zine fest in Chicago, when I approached a table of two POC zine makers and asked them if they “had any advice for a white woman like me who wants to take anti-racist action.” Their reply was a quick deflection of my request for their emotional labor. “Buy all of our zines” they said and “Go home and google it”.
In 2011 I connected with four femmes who, through Tumblr and social media, were seeking more zine-focused events where we all lived, in Los Angeles. At the time there were a significant number of opportunities for comics creators in L.A. There were several anarchist book fairs and zine fests in neighboring cities, but not an event near us with the diversity of types of zines like what we’d experienced in San Francisco, Portland, or Chicago. The four of us began regularly hosting small events together: inviting five or six zine makers to setup at tables one weekend a month at a local comic book store that agreed to host us. When interest steadily grew larger than that space could hold, we decided to organize a larger event, which became our first L.A. Zine Fest.
A larger local bookstore offered us free space to host about 100 exhibitors and after spreading the word through flyers and social media, we received enough submissions to fill all the tables. We distributed our organizing work as evenly as we could, taking on tasks that we were interested in and/or skilled at. One organizer was a graphic designer, so she made a poster design for the Fest. Another was great at creating spreadsheets and organizing information. I found myself naturally putting together questions about the day of, imagining what the experience of participants might be, so we could anticipate potential challenges. We had no idea how many attendees to expect and were completely surprised that the event was bustling all day. People were already asking, before it was over, when the next fest we would be hosting was going to take place.
As we approach our ninth annual event in 2020, I often think about how much I’ve learned over these years as a volunteer organizer. It is important to acknowledge that organizing a zine fest means building off the decades of work and ideas that people and groups organizing around zines and self-publishing have done. In part two of this series, I will open up about what my experiences have taught me, and how our ability to locate people online who share similar identities and experiences to us, holds similar significance to the face-to-face connections made at zine fests.
New to zines? Here are a few local (NYC) resources to get you started—clicking on the images will redirect you to their pages: